Bicycles are a critical part of everyday life. Whether you are in Amsterdam, San Francisco, or Aberdeen, you are bound to see humans riding bikes. The universal adoption of bikes in modern society may be traced to three core characteristics:
- Cost: Bikes are generally inexpensive alternatives to transportation.
- Durability: Bikes are hardy machines, and can take quite a beating.
- Efficiency: More efficient than walking, bikes offer an excellent alternative for getting from A to B.
Although bikes are extraordinarily popular, one strange fact remains: no one knows who invented them! In this biography, we will attempt to trace the bicycle through the centuries.
Birth of the Bicycle
This story begins in Paris, 1818, when Charles of Sauerbrun was granted a patent for a bicycle-like machine. This contraption, called a Draisienne, had a large front wheel, a padded seat, and rudimentary steering.
The term “bicycle” was not yet in use. This French term was coined in 1869, when the bicycle became a cultural phenomenon. In no time, Charles of Sauerbrun’s invention had gone international. Adoption soared in England and the United States, where shrewd carriage-making companies retooled their production lines and took full advantage.
Biking Toward Modernity
Entering the 1900’s, bicycles continued to soar in popularity. One concern threatened to derail this new industry: safety. As grisly accidents continued adding up, bicycles earned a reputation for being dangerous. The industrialization of the 1900’s led to better standardization of metals production. Bikes’ structural integrity improved tremendously – and not only that, new takes on the bicycle started to emerge.
New Takes On Bicycles
In the late 1900’s and early 2000’s, American ingenuity drove the inception of bicycles specialized for specific utilitarian needs.
The Exercise Bicycle
With the rise of capitalism came the standardization of the workforce, and with that came a sort of “fitness debt”. People were working so much that specialized shortcuts (most famously, the TV dinner) became a necessary part of daily life.
The exercise bike is perhaps one of the plainest examples of convenience seeping into the articles of life. The stationary bike gained popularity in the US during the mid-1950s, when a new middle class armed with disposable income began to participate in capitalism. This type of bike is used primarily for fitness and exercise; it allows the user to cycle from the comfort of the home or gym. Additionally, this bike solves for the problem of safety because the user is completely stationary at all times.
The Recumbent Bicycle
If the stationary bicycle was the star of the 1900’s, then the recumbent bicycle owns the 2000’s. First invented in the 1900’s, the recumbent bicycle never caught on because it was simply not practical. Early recumbent bikes could weigh as much as 300 pounds. Even as their design improved, recumbent bikes still did not achieve popularity until the 2000’s – perhaps because of their silly appearance. These bikes are no longer a niche product any more, and have truly entered the mainstream.
What are the benefits of the recumbent bicycle? The most obvious advantage is that recumbency lends itself to streamlined aerodynamics. Perhaps less obvious, the recumbent biker may enjoy improved comfort and reduced back pain. Indeed, recumbent bikes are less strenuous and human-friendly, if you can get over their looks.